Vidarbha a poll plank
He is an M.B.B.S., M.D., D.B.M., MBA with the prestigious D.Litt. in Sanskrit. He is also a LL.M. in international law. Then there is his degree in journalism. He has done his Masters in not less than nine subjects from Public Administration, Sociology and Political Science on the one hand to English Literature and Ancient Indian History, Culture and Archaeology on the other. In between, count his degrees in Sanskrit, Economics, Philosophy and History.
For the record, he is also an IPS of the 1978 batch and an IAS of the 1980 batch. If he did not make it to the Guinness Book of World Records, it was only because Guinness had no means to quantify the standards in India. But Limca and other Indian books have Dr Shrikant Jiochkar down and he has also figured on national quiz shows: Who is the most educated man in India? generally the quiz masters have had to provide the answer. Amen!
For those who crib about the disenchantment of the educated with politics, Dr. Shrikant Jichkar may just be the exception who proves the rule. Unarguably the most university-educated candidate in fray in the nation; an erudite scholar of Sanskrit and religion; once selected in the ten most outstanding youth of the world; credited with starting the Sanskrit university here of which he was Chancellor; possessing a personal library of 52,000 rare books; the 49-year old Dr. Shrikant Jichkar is the Congress candidate for the prestigious Ramtek Lok Sabha constituency.
Jichkar is a seasoned politician, having been a Rajya Sabha MP, an MLA and an MLC and a high profile Minister of state for Home in Maharashtra in the early eighties during his very first term in the Assembly. Starting as a student leader, Jichkar has been minister of as many as 14 departments in Maharashtra while also boasting of a record of raising maximum number of questions in a day as a Rajya Sabha member.
On the hot, dusty pitch of this Lok Sabha battle, Dr. Jichkar follows a gruelling schedule from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. reaching people across an expansive constituency spread loosely and spanning three different districts. Attired in a spotless white dhoti, Dr. Jichkar recalls to mind the image of his delivering a lecture at the World Religion Council in Spain late last year but his sermons here are of agrarian welfare.
He carries what he calls a "potli' of financial reports and budget books to his public meetings. Displaying the voluminous records and books, Dr. Jichkar painstakingly points out pages in them which rebut claims made by his chief opponent, Shiv Sena candidate and Union Minister, Subodh Mohite, regarding projects and plans.
His wily opposition, however, is leaving no stone unturned to ensure that the zero-budget he widely promoted when Minister of state for Finance in the mid-eighties hangs like an albatross around his neck. The voters are being hammered with a one-point agenda that Dr.
Jichkar was solely responsible for thousands and thousands of jobs lost then. The public meetings in the pre-dominantly rural constituency are, therefore, now getting extensive fact-finding lessons in zero-budgeting from none other than guru Jichkar! Ironically, the NDA is now on zero-budget at the Centre. So who is Dr Jichkar talking about?
Excerpts from the Interview
It is 11 p.m. at Ramtek. The day is not yet over for Dr. Shrikant Jichkar as he partakes an almost austere meal discussing strategies with party workers. In a tete-a-tete with Hindustan Times, he speaks of the battle before him.
With the opposition painting you as the main villain behind jobs lost, suicides and family break-ups, ostensibly due to zero-budget in Maharashtra almost twenty years back, do you have a lot of explaining to do?
No, not much explaining. Mohite's candidature was declared by the Shiv Sena 21 days before I got the Congress ticket. His campaigning has therefore got this edge. But the BJP-Shiv Sena took up the zero-base budget as an issue only now. So I am keeping track and explaining it in detail only at places where the opposition has touched upon it.
I think it is very funny. Though it is being inexplicably touted as my baby, I was only responsible for giving it publicity as a concept as Minister of State. I had then given speeches on it, taken classes for legislators and ministers. Incidentally, realizing the advantages of the zero-budget, the NDA government itself had to resort to it. Yet, it's own ministers are misleading the population on the issue.
The last year saw a spurt in the agitations of separate statehood for Vidarbha. Even as most politicians here cutting across party lines safely preferred to adopt a pro-Vidarbha stance, you were consistently seen as an opponent, espousing a united Maharashtra?
I do not think that statehood is an issue at all. My stand is vindicated. I have been saying it for a long time. But, of course, we cannot say that Vidarbha is not a poll issue because there are parties fighting polls on this plank. The votes they receive will make the public sentiment clear on the issue.
What is your strategy?
I know that the delay in announcement of my candidature will not allow me to personally visit and campaign in all villages. But the presence of Congress at the grass-roots is our basic advantage. This is now coupled with the NCP alliance.
As I am telling people in all my public meetings, I will be releasing my personal 'vachannama' soon in which I have quantified my assurances for the constituency within the ambit of 332 government schemes. It comprises some 350 points. At the end of 5 years, I will also submit an Action Taken Report (ATR).
I am also telling people of SEVA an organization of which I am national co-ordinator and fund-raiser. With its Rs 1000 crore annual outlay its welfare schemes have reached 400 tribal villages in the country.